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An Unparalelled Serpent': How A Baghdad Newspaper Inspired Madeleine Albright's Signature Style

LBJ Library photo by Jay Godwin
Albright's jewelry is now on display at the LBJ Presidential Library.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visited Austin for the opening of a new exhibit at the LBJ Presidential Library called Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection.

Albright stopped by the Texas Standard studio to talk about the collection. 

“I’m glad to be in Texas,” Albright said. “Today I’ve got on my Texas pin, which has stars and cowboy boots and Stetsons.”

She’s famous for her pins, which she’s used for decades as a strategy of creative diplomacy.

“What happened was, when I got [to the UN], in February ‘93 was the end of the Gulf War and the ceasefire had been translated into a series of sanctions resolutions,” she said. “I was an instructed ambassador and my instructions were to make sure that the sanctions stayed on. So every day I said perfectly terrible things about Saddam Hussein – which he deserved, he invaded Kuwait. So all of a sudden a poem appeared in the papers in Baghdad comparing me to many things, but among them an unparalleled serpent. And I happened to have a snake pin, so I wore it whenever we talked about Iraq. And then I thought, ‘Well, this is fun.’ So I went out and I bought a bunch of costume jewelry to reflect whatever I thought we were going to do on any given day. So especially when I’m here in Texas I can say the first President Bush said ‘Read my lips, no new taxes.’ So I said ‘Read my pins.’ And that’s how the whole thing started.”

She wanted to use her pins to deliver a message – and not discretely.

“When I was Secretary of State, the Russians were bugging the State Department and we found the guy ultimately sitting outside listening,” she said. “The next time I met with the Russian foreign minister I wore this huge bug and he totally got what was going on.” 

Albright took her pins with her on her travels, even in North Korea.

“I wore the biggest American flag you’ve ever seen,” she said. “I thought, ‘What is it like for the Leader to be standing next to an American with a very large flag being very proud?’”

The collection, on display at the LBJ Presidential Library, shows off more than 200 of her signature pins. The exhibit runs until Jan. 21, 2018.

Written by Jen Rice.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
Leah Scarpelli joined Texas Standard in September 2015 from NPR’s Morning Edition, where she spent seven years as a producer, director and occasional reporter of music and arts pieces. As Texas Standard director, Leah is responsible for the overall practical and creative interpretation of each day’s program: choosing segue music, managing the prep of show content, and providing explicit directions for the host and technical director during the live broadcast. She graduated from Ithaca College in New York with a Bachelor of Science degree in Television and Radio. She enjoys riding her Triumph motorcycle and getting out for hikes in the Texas countryside. Her late grandfather was from Yoakum.
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